By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Action remains to be taken on Seward County’s part of an interlocal agreement adopted by the City of Liberal last week concerning a Neighborhood Revitalization Plan.
Tuesday, the county commission chose unanimously to table a vote on the item until department heads with both the city and county can meet to hammer out details in the plan.
City housing director Karen LaFreniere said under the plan, parts of Liberal will be eligible for tax increment financing or rebates on remodeling projects on homes and other buildings.
“It’d be east Liberal from east of Kansas Avenue from 11th Street south to Pine,” she said. “The rest will be Second Street south to Pine.”
LaFreniere said where the county comes into the equation is through both the clerk and the appraiser’s office.
Information in the agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting indicated the financial impact for the county had yet to be determined. Commissioner C.J. Wettstein questioned LaFreniere about that impact, and the housing director explained.
“The impact is the positive part of what are we going to do for that neighborhood or that area,” she said. “The whole thing should fund itself since its a tax rebate. The taxes that are already paid will be a constant. The increment is that they’ll be rebated every year.”
LaFreniere said initially that the improvement on the properties in question would have to total more than $5,000.
“The value has to be able to come up also,” she said. “It depends on the value of the improvements, the value that they’re adding to their property.”
LaFreniere then explained how property owners and taxpayers could become eligible for the NRP.
“They come in and apply, and it’s determined what their property value is without this improvement,” she said. “When that improvement is made, that additional tax will be rebated after its paid. To qualify for the program, the people will have to make applications first. They’ll have to pull the building permits, and they’ll have to show where their taxes are current.”
County clerk Stacia Long then corrected LaFreniere as to the value of the improvements that would need to be made under the NRP.
“I have read word for word all of this, and not anywhere in any of this does it say anything about $5,000,” she said. “What it does say is that the improvement has to be at least 10 percent of the appraised value on real estate and 20 percent on commercial.”
County commission chairman Ada Linenbroker said it is important for county officials to understand how the NRP works.
“Our employees are the ones that are going to be doing a lot of the appraisal part and paying the checks,” she said.
Linenbroker said despite the concerns about how the NRP is written, she likes what it is designed to do.
“I really like this plan,” she said. “I think this is great for the community to do improvements on their own. I would love to see some improvements.”
County administrator April Warden suggested a work session to let LaFreniere meet with her, Long and county appraiser Angela Eichman, the people Linenbroker said will primarily be involved in the implementation of the NRP.
“We need to get our people that are going to be doing the work for us at the county like doing the checks,” the chairman said. “Maybe, we can get a work session with you guys worked out and get this where it’s good for both departments.”
Warden said everyone involved believes the NRP is a good plan, and several other counties in Kansas have taken similar measures in their communities.
“I just think that we have a lot of questions, and we’re not clear exactly,” she said.
Commissioner Jim Rice said more needs to be learned before any action can be taken.
“I’m not in favor of jumping out here and agreeing to do something that I don’t understand,” he said.
LaFreniere said for now, the NRP is still a work in progress.
“I’m very flexible with that, and I’m comfortable with any changes that you want to make,” she said to the commission.
Long said the plan needed to have more specific details before it could be passed and implemented.
“It’s very broad as far as what you can and can’t do,” she said. “My concern is that we are going to be the ones implementing it. We need to understand what our duty is in it from the beginning.”
Wettstein said Long, Eichman and Warden are the best people to have at the work session and to work out the details of the NRP.
“They probably know more about it than any of us know about it,” he said. “I would personally rather see the clerk and the appraiser and April and all of them and anybody that Karen wants to come to the table get together and try to fine tune this thing and get it to where it’ll work. I think all of us are in favor of it.”
The commission voted 4-0, with commissioner Doug LaFreniere abstaining, to table a vote on the NRP until the work session takes place.